In November 1944, English activist Donald Watson held a meeting in Leicester with another five non-dairy vegetarian friends to discuss a possible lifestyle and diet which totally excluded the consumption of any type of animal-sourced foods. This was the dawn of a new movement which, in order to be recognizable, was in immediate need of a name: “dairyban”, “vitan” and “benevore” were the ideas that emerged from a long brainstorming session but, at the end of the day, the name sprang from a simple play on words. Starting from the word ‘vegetarian’, it was cut down in keeping with Watson’s own philosophy, to leave only the first and last letters. This gave us a neologism that has now been around for 70 years but which, only in recent times, has entered the everyday vocabulary of millions of people: vegan.
As well as founding the so-called Vegan Society, Watson created its official mouthpiece which, ever since then, has continued to be published in the form of a quarterly magazine: The Vegan, as the publication is called, is distributed to members and contains “updates, recipes, ideas and resources in a lively, easy-to-read style suitable for vegans of all ages”. All editions have been put together on ISSU and may be consulted online, starting from the first number of 26 November 1944: a sort of typewritten fanzine presenting the movement’s manifesto. As early as the third number, the magazine started to publish the first recipe column edited by Muriel E. Drake who presents orange walnut cookies, wholemeal almond biscuits and a vegetable pie of mashed potatoes and baked beans. They are very basic homely recipes, written in the simple style of “Granny’s cookbook”. They make no attempt to seduce with the food styling effects we are accustomed to but they have introduced a new concept to traditional cooking, teaching us how to do without certain ingredients and enjoy the result, but they bear no relation to contemporary 100% vegan gourmet cuisine, often signed by starred chefs.
The first number with a bound spine was published in the spring of 1946 and, starting from its cover, announced a special edition of dried banana recipes. Of the eight recipes published, one in particular strikes the eye: banana pancakes made from wholemeal flour, soya flour and water (but without the addition of vegetable beverages like soy or rice drinks, not easy to come by at the time) is presented as an alternative to the traditional American breakfast. The first recipes for home-made nut milk, soy milk and soy cream appeared in the winter number of the same year, which was also the first edition to contain an insert in photographic paper dedicated to portraits of vegan children, such as that of Christopher James Mayo who “... has muesli breakfast, salad lunches and fruit juices to drink. He plays football and cricket, is always energetic, full of life and very independent.”
Commercial companies quickly caught on to this new market niche, one that was not to be underestimated and, in 1948 the first advertisements appeared for products such as the Bel Cream Maker for making vegetable butters and soya milk at home, the family hotel on the Isle of Wight offering full board in line with the vegan philosophy or vegetable extract for seasoning soups and the first vitamin B integrators.
Since 2002 The Vegan is published in full colour with covers dedicated to celebrities of the vegan culture of the like of Moby, Johnny Marr of the Smiths, Morgan Spurlock and Uri Geller. The collection of its (approximately) 280 numbers, plus special editions, adds up to the bible of a movement that has grown exponentially in recent years, based on an ethical concept of respect for animals and the environment, in the name of a healthy lifestyle, which has marked an important evolution of the food market.